But You Were Washed
A Message on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
I want to investigate with you today what causes us to fall back into sin after we have already been saved, to backslide, as we call it. There is an unfortunate pattern in which I bet a lot of us have been stuck at some point in time. It is this oscillating pattern where we go from dedication to Jesus to a period of backsliding back to Jesus then back to backsliding, back and forth like a pendulum. I want to give you some honest tips from the Scriptures and from my personal experience for preventing such backsliding. If you have never experienced backsliding, if you have never sinned since you got saved, Congratulations, that’s wonderful, and color me impressed. This sermon, however, may not be very instructive or relevant for you, but if you’re like me, and you’ve been through some things in life, then maybe we can learn a few things together today.
Have you ever heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He was a preacher and theologian in Germany during the first half of the twentieth century when Hitler rose to power. Bonhoeffer became a part of the Confessing Church, which refused to submit to Nazi control of their churches. One thing led to another, and Bonhoeffer found himself embroiled in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer wrote a book about Christian ethics, and one of the things he said in his book was “the essence of chastity is not the suppression of lust but the total orientation of one’s life toward a goal.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that in reference to how Christians can remain chaste outside marriage, but it applies to sin in all its forms: total orientation of one’s life toward a goal. I want you to remember that because we are going to come back to it over the course of this discussion. Bonhoeffer was ultimately executed by Hitler and the Nazis because he refused to waver from his dedication to the Lord despite what the culture around Him was doing and despite the threat of death. Bonhoeffer epitomized total orientation of one’s life toward a goal. That type of focus looks different depending on your cultural context, obviously. Not many of us, hopefully, will become martyrs, but we will face temptation. We can stand firm with the help of the Holy Spirit if we stay focused on the goal, which is serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, pressing on toward our upward call in Christ Jesus.
We are going to be looking at 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 today to see what the Apostle Paul had to say about backsliding, but before we do, I want to tell you a little bit about the situation in Corinth during Paul’s time. First-century Corinth was actually a lot like some of our big cities in America today. It was a place where you could find anything, do anything. Historians estimate that about 500,000 people lived in Corinth in the first century. That is a lot of people in one city now, and it was definitely a lot during a time when the total population of the earth was only about 200 million, compared to over 7 billion today. So, Corinth was a big city. It was one of the big hubs on the Via Egnatia, one of the main Roman roads. It was also a port city. Thousands of people travelled through Corinth on a daily basis, bringing their goods into the port to go up the Via Egnatia and out into the rest of the Empire. All of those factors led to one result. Corinth was wild, and it was known throughout the Empire for being wild, maybe how we would think of Los Angeles or New Orleans, something like that today. Paul knew about their problems firsthand because he founded the church there. You can read in Acts 18 about Paul founding this church. Paul stayed there preaching for a year and a half. Paul knew about this city and their issues. He also loved these crazy Corinthians. Paul wrote that he thanks God always for his friends in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:4). Paul wrote this letter as well as Second Corinthians to help them with some of these problems they were experiencing, which mostly dealt with backsliding. Paul summarized their backsliding problems and offered some solutions in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11.
In the words of Paul,
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11)
We do not struggle with any of those issues today, though, do we? Sexual immorality—Do I need to even get into this one? I mean, you can’t even turn on the TV without seeing something sexually suggestive, whether it’s primetime television or a cellphone commercial. It is unreal. And I see how you have been looking at that Newsmax lady. Idolaters—As you probably know, idolatry is more than just worshiping a false god, as was common in Corinth. Anything that takes precedence over God in your life is an idol. If you say, “I would rather do ‘x’ than do what I know God wants me to do, then ‘x’ has become an idol in your life. When we make decisions, the overriding factor in our decision-making should be, will this action bring glory to God? Any other mindset is idolatrous. Adultery—I’m just looking. No, you are not. Again, it’s the mindset. You can have an adulterous mindset without physically cheating. Homosexuality—along with sexual immorality, this seems to be becoming a more and more significant problem in American society. The list continues, “Nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” I don’t get it, Big Dan. I thought we were saved by grace through faith, not by works, but now you are saying if I do any of these things I won’t be saved. That’s not what he means here. Paul did not contradict justification by faith. He was telling them, “Quit acting like that.” That is what Paul was saying. You were washed, sanctified, “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” You are acting like that means nothing to you. Quit acting like that. Act like God’s people. Now there is a secret to ceasing to act like a heathen, which we will get to shortly, but first I want to talk about why we sin—the results of sin and why we sin. Then, we will get into how we overcome sin.
The Nature of Sin
The first thing I want you to see from this passage is that sin is both destructive and addictive. Although sin will destroy you, you are naturally addicted to it. Even though we are Christians and have given our hearts to God, unfortunately, we do not just become immediately immune to our old addiction. As my friend Danny Duvall remarked, “Although the power of the old nature over the believer is broken, the believer is still able to put it back into operation by yielding to its desires.” Why would anyone do that? In the seventeenth century, a genius (not unlike my friend Danny) named Blaise Pascal discussed sin and the underlying mindset. Pascal suggested, “Your principal maladies are pride, which cuts you off from God, and sensuality, which binds you to the earth.” Pascal’s observation still rings true today—pride and sensuality. Power and lust are two other ways you could say it. That is sin in a nutshell—wanting to be our own masters and wanting to experience our idea of pleasure. Both of those are addictive, too. Power is addictive. The more power you have, the more power you want. You say, “I just want power, so I can help people.” No, you want power because you like to feel powerful. You covet the throne. Do you know who else coveted the throne? Lust is addictive too. The more you satisfy your lusts, the more you will want to satisfy your lust. We will try to justify it. I am sowing my wild oats, so I can settle down. I heard a preacher say that sowing your wild oats does not get rid of your wildness because if you sow wild oats, then you will reap wild oats.
Sin is also destructive, physically and spiritually. Saint Augustine, after spending the first half of his life bound by pride and sensuality commented in his Confessions, “What am I to myself but a guide to my own self-destruction?” I resemble that remark. Our deceitful hearts tell us that we know best how to live our lives, but the results speak for themselves. Left alone, we will destroy ourselves. Look around. Look at your own life. How many times have you ignored God and tried to do life your own way? And how many times has that been a successful long-term strategy? Look at the world. The Age of Reason with its humanism and enlightenment and all that led directly into two world wars. The American government tries to remove God from schools, and every year there is another school shooting. It does not work. Man cannot live without God. Sin, rebellion against God, may lead to temporary happiness, but it never leads to lasting joy. Sexual immorality, greed, drug abuse, playing the drunk, it is all the same thing; it is all rebellion against God, and it does not lead to joy. It leads to destruction, in this life and the next. “And such were some of you,” Paul wrote. And such was I. Although I grew up in a Christian household with wonderful Christian parents, when I went to college, I began to rebel against a lot of the things I had been taught. I began to be some of these things Paul says we should not be.
Do not be a drunkard—boy was I. I watched “Animal House,” and I thought drinking alcohol was literally part of what it meant to get a college education. C’s get degrees, and I’ll see you at the bar. Do not be sexually immoral—we might get married one day, and besides, doesn’t God want us to be happy? You only live once, live your best life, and all that. Do not be an idolater—worshiping a good time makes you an idolater. I used to plan my whole life around making sure I could go party on Thursday night. I worshiped that party. I also made room in my weekly itinerary for work and school because I worshiped the future success and ability to enjoy life that those two pursuits would bring me. My relationship with God was something I would fit into my schedule if I had time.
Although I was sinking into the quicksand of depravity, I really did not think I was that bad off because I was successful according to the standards of the world. That is one of the devil’s tricks. I was doing everything the Bible said I should not do. I was at the bar every night chasing a good time and chasing skirts, but I was doing fine in my classes. I had decent grades. I had the Hope Scholarship. I was on the leadership team for my fraternity. I had a nice internship. I was preparing to go to law school. Plus, I was still going to church most Sundays. I was doing exactly what the world said I should be doing and doing well at it. Therefore, in my mind, it could not be wrong. Do you know that sometimes the devil will trick you with temporary happiness and success so he can steal your eternal soul? He masquerades as an angel of light. He will whisper little stuff like this to you: “If cheating on your wife is really so bad, God would not allow you to continue to have success, so clearly He does not mind you cheating on your wife. God wants you to be happy.” Or, “If swindling people out of their money is so bad, God would not bless you and allow you to have success in that, but your house is paid for, and your family is happy. God wants you to be happy.”
But let me tell you something today, the Bible does not tell you to pursue happiness. The pursuit of happiness is a worldly concept invented by one of those guys who tore up the Bible. The Bible tells you to pursue Christ. Also, if you pursue happiness, you will never catch it. In fact, the only thing guaranteed not to result in happiness is the pursuit of happiness. When you pursue happiness, you become selfish. Selfishness never results in lasting happiness because it is too introspective. Selfish people are not happy people. That is why you hear so many stories of rich and famous people committing suicide. They reached the pinnacle of their selfish pursuits and did not find happiness there. It was a false summit.
Happiness ensues when you live for a purpose greater than yourself. What purpose? How about the purpose of living for the one who created you and died for you? True joy only comes from serving God. That is what you were created to do. The pursuit of happiness is a worldly concept, and God does not call you to live as the world says you should; He calls you to live counter culturally, even to be unsuccessful in the eyes of the people of the world if that is what it takes to be successful in your pursuit of God’s calling on your life. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote (from jail) that the church should be a thermostat, not a thermometer, that it should set the temperature for the culture not reflect the temperature of the culture. As for me, I was a thermometer until May 2, 2012, at 2AM. After that, everything changed.
Do you remember Augustine’s comment about self-destruction resulting from being our own guides? On May 2, 2012, when I was twenty-one years old, those words came true in my life. A few friends and I went to a Braves game at the old Turner Field. I had a few beers there. Then, after the game, we went to Taco Mac in Douglasville where I had a few more drinks. Then, I had to go home because I had to get to my internship in the morning. I did not make it. In the morning, I woke up in a hospital bed with a broken hip and a very limited recollection of the previous night. I would later learn from two Douglas County deputies that around 2 AM, while driving drunk, I crossed over the centerline on Post Road in Douglasville, Georgia, causing a head-on collision and killing two young men. Everything had been going so well. What happened? My journey downward began with seeds of doubt.
How Doubting the Gospel Leads to Sin
That leads to the next point of this passage. Unresolved doubt leads to sin. That is why Paul went from describing sin to describing the gospel message about being washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Essentially, Paul was saying, “When you commit all of these sins, you are acting like someone who does not believe the gospel message.” If actions speak louder than words, then the speech of a backslidden Christian is “I do not believe the Bible.” The actions of the backslider say, “I do not believe that following biblical precepts will make my life better.” The actions of the backslider say, “I do not believe God has my best interests at heart.” The actions of the backslider say, “I don’t believe God loves me.” That was certainly the case for me.
I gave my heart to Jesus at a young age, but in my teenage years, doubts began to creep into my mind. I began to kick against the things I had been taught. I thought I was pretty slick at that age (this is the pride part if you remember Pascal’s comments about pride and sensuality). I thought I was smarter than everyone else. Adulthood would shortly absolve me of that misperception, but there is no one smarter in his own mind than a teenager. In my mind, I was the smartest of them all. I was so smart that I was learning that I was actually smarter than the folks that wrote the Bible. They probably were good folks, but they were just confused. I was a boy genius, and they were confused. I was learning and reading and studying things about science and history, and I was beginning to see what I thought were contradictions and inaccuracies in the Bible. Do you see how prideful that is? I thought I was smart enough to find these contradictions that everyone else missed.
Next is where the sensuality part comes into play. To be honest, in the back of my mind, I did not really want the bible to be 100% true. If the Bible is not completely true, then I do not have to do everything it says. That sounded good to me because there were certain commands in the Bible that I would rather not follow. If the Bible contains errors, then I can cherry-pick these rules, keeping the parts I like and discarding the rest. People have actually done that in the past. It is one of the oldest forms of heresy. It started with Marcion in the second century. We talked the other day about the Jefferson Bible where Thomas Jefferson created his own version of the Bible that only included parts that he agreed with. It continues today. Most Christians rightly deplore that type of thing, but when we ignore parts of the Bible, we are doing the same thing, just without the scissors. This part about the Golden Rule makes sense, so I will keep it, but I do not really care for this part about monogamy. I will just ignore it in the theology of Cory Camp. That is what happens when you let the devil trick you into thinking the Bible contains errors. Instead of God being your Master, you become His Master. My parents kept the application of the Cory Camp theology mostly in check when I lived with them, but when I grew older and gained some independence, my doubts of the Bible started leading to more and more actions.
It was all fun and games until it wasn’t. Someone said, “Sin will take you farther than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay.” Well, a broken hip, fifteen years in prison, and a lifetime of guilt over causing two young men’s deaths was a lot further than I wanted to go, I assure you. After the wreck, I began to reexamine everything I thought I knew while I was playing boy-genius following the way of the world. I had guided myself straight to my own self-destruction. I needed God, and it was not funny anymore. However, the doubts I had about the Bible were real to me, and I would not give myself fully to God if I could not reconcile those doubts, no matter how badly I wanted to do so in my heart. I needed to know that I was truly washed, sanctified, and justified like Paul claimed in First Corinthians.
In Douglas County Jail, while waiting to be sentenced to prison, I met a guy named Red. Red was in for burglary, waiting to take his plea deal. This was about to be Red’s sixth time going to prison. Red’s story is one of those sad drug addiction stories. I have met people in prison that you would never think would do some of the things that they are locked up for doing, but those drugs will literally change you. Meth makes animals out of men. Anyway, Red knew the Bible. He and I talked about the Bible a lot. I told him about how I wanted to love and trust God, but I had these doubts. Red recommended to me that I read a book called Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. Evidence is an apologetics book. (That is apologetics as in the sense of defending the faith, not apologizing for the faith. I just want to make sure there is no misunderstanding there.) I did not even know apologetics was a thing at the time. I was always taught just to believe. I attacked that book, and I learned that the Bible is verifiably true. The doubts that seemed so real to me when I was young and dumb became laughable. I literally laughed for joy some days as I read that book. I learned about the vast amount of philosophical, scientific, and historical evidence for all of the principles, points, and assertions of the Bible. I also learned that Christianity is the only religion or worldview that corresponds to everything we see in the real world without contradicting itself. Every other worldview breaks down at some point. It either fails to account for the realities of the real world, or it contradicts itself. Christianity, that Bible you hold in your hand, is 100% true, and don’t let anyone tell you different. Anyway, as I studied apologetics, the Holy Spirit began to wash all of my old doubts away as He showed me just how true and beautiful the gospel really is. Now, I rightfully doubt any teaching or “knowledge” that contradicts the Bible. The Holy Spirit has shown me that if any idea or theory seems to contradict the Bible, then one of only two possibilities exists: (1) The idea/theory is wrong; or (2) my interpretation of the Bible on that issue is wrong. That’s it. The Bible has never been, nor will ever be, wrong about anything! The Bible is the litmus test by which we can test all other truth claims. God washed away my doubts. Then He taught me the true meaning of the gospel.
How Knowing the Gospel Protects from Sin
This is so important because gospel focus will protect you from backsliding. Backsliding comes as a result of doubting the gospel. When you know the gospel is true and you focus on it, you will not fall back into those sinful patterns. Paul summarized the whole message of the gospel with these three short clauses. We are going to look at each one individually and break them down to see how they relate to backsliding.
“But you were washed,” Paul reminded the backsliding Christians. I had to remember that for myself. The first thing I want you to see relating to the gospel message is that you can come back from your backsliding. I needed to know that. At this point, I was in Douglas County Jail, and my doubts about the Bible were gone, erased. I went from a skeptic to someone who does not doubt one dot in the Bible. But that meant that I had a problem. My newfound understanding of the Bible meant that I had been dead wrong in how I was living my life. Now that my doubts were gone, my guilt wanted to rush in to fill their place. I was feeling extremely guilty and condemned not just for causing those two young men’s deaths but for all of the other ways I had been rebelling against God throughout my life. As I was sitting in Douglas County Jail, realizing that the Bible was truer than any truth I ever thought I knew, the devil was shooting crushing guilt at me, to the point where I was more worried about how much God must hate me than I was about going to prison. “But you were washed,” God whispered to me one night while I was replaying mental videos of all the wrongs I had done over the years. Do you ever do that? Do you ever lie in bed and condemn yourself as you dwell on sins from your past? I used to be bad about that. I would lie in bed thinking about the people I have let down in life and about the pain and suffering that I have caused people until one night I was lying there wallowing in all my sin and guilt, and God whispered to me, “I already forgave you of all that.” If you have accepted the free gift of grace, God has separated your sins as far away from you as the east is from the west! You are not condemned! Jesus is not the accuser! That is what Satan does. In fact, that is what the name “Satan” means. Don’t you know how bad you are? Don’t you know what a terrible person you are? That is not God; that is the devil! Do not let the devil condemn you, and do not condemn yourself because you, Christian, are washed!
When I remembered that I was washed, the guilt over my actions began to dissipate and the fear of the future literally disappeared. At this point, I was in Douglas County Jail waiting to go to prison for Vehicular Homicide, and God freed me of all guilt and fear. I was looking at fifteen years in prison, and I felt like dancing for joy because I was freer in that jail cell than I had ever been in my entire life! And so are you. The sins in your past do not define you. God says you are made in His image, that you are Christ’s co-heir. You need to forget about the past and look forward to what is ahead. You have sinned in the past. If you want to quit those sinful patterns, think about what Jesus did for you and do what the Word tells you will make Him happy. Think about what you can do for God today, and don’t let your past dictate your future.
Not only were you washed, Paul said, but “you were justified.” This is the next part of the gospel that I learned, and it is so good. The Bible says that Jesus paid the debt you and I owe. Your sins are washed away, and you are justified in God’s presence, just as if I had never sinned. That is something that people say, but justified actually means more even than that. Justified means that Jesus’ righteousness is actually imputed onto us. Imputed is a big theological word, but it basically means that you get credited for Jesus’ righteousness. The Bible compares sin to debt, so when Jesus washed away your sin, he paid off your debt. When we talk about being justified, it means that not only did Jesus pay off your debt, but He filled up our bank account too. That is why the Incarnation happened. Jesus Christ, very God of very God, born to a virgin, lived a fully righteous life. When we place our faith in Jesus, in God’s eyes we become righteous just like Jesus. Paul put it like this: God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). When you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, he washes away your sin to remove your guilt and justifies you so that you become righteous before God.
How much does God love Jesus, do you think? Well, let me tell you something today, He loves you the same amount. When God looks at you, He sees His Son Jesus. No matter how greatly you succeed, no matter how badly you fall, if you have the covering of Jesus Christ, God loves you just as much as He loves Jesus. That’s what I learned. What’s more, I do not just feel like God loves me. I do not hope God loves me. I know God loves me, beyond a shadow of a doubt. What am amazing thing to know. Do you see how freeing that is? There is no screw-up you can fall into that will make Him love you any less. God gives us that love as a free gift. By grace you have been saved, through faith. If you make a mistake, you repent, lay it at the foot of the cross, and you move forward. Now, that is not a license for sin but quite the opposite. With Jesus’ covering, you are now free to act without pressure. There is no pressure on you to succeed because no matter how great you do in this life, you will not be a better man than Jesus was. I guarantee you that. You will not surpass Jesus, and God already loves you like He loves Jesus. No matter what happens, God loves you. Get out there and take some chances in service to the kingdom of God. The Bible calls that process of learning how to live a Kingdom-focused life sanctification.
Paul told the Corinthians, “You were sanctified.” Now, I want you to get this because this is awesome. When you understand the gospel, it will make you desire to serve God. In Romans, Paul calls it your “rational service.” It just makes good sense to live the life that your loving Creator desires for you. When you begin to live a life of service to Jesus, watch what happens. As you walk with God, serving in the Kingdom out of freedom and joy, your desire for sin decreases. If you give your service in the kingdom of God your full attention, you will not fall back into the old sinful patterns. When you make the kingdom of God your primary focus, the Holy Spirit will keep you from backsliding. This is what Bonhoeffer was talking about, total orientation of one’s life toward a goal. When you are totally focused on serving in the Kingdom, you quit thinking about sinning. That is what happens as you become sanctified.
I used to hear pastors all the time say, “Just give it to God.” That is what we say about how we can get over certain sins in our life. Do you want to quit doing drugs? Just give it to God. Do you want to quit cussing? Just give it to God. Do you want to quit lusting after women? Just give it to God. I used to hear preachers say that all the time, but I never really knew what it meant. It sounded good, but I never knew how to “just give it to God.” I learned something when I was studying this passage. Just give it to God means quit thinking about what you shouldn’t be doing, cussing, lusting, or whatever, and start thinking about what you should be doing, which is your service in the Kingdom. This means things like telling people about Jesus, meeting people’s needs, applying your God-given talents to God’s kingdom. When you are serving God, you are not thinking about sin. You are thinking about what you can do to become a better servant of God. Do you see that? If you do not get anything else from this message today, I want you to get that. The way you quit sinning, the way you prevent yourself from backsliding is by serving others for the sake of the Kingdom of God because it takes the focus away from you and puts it on God. When you really know Jesus, that service is not hard work. Your service becomes the natural response when you realize how wonderful Jesus is. As you get to know Jesus, the Holy Spirit helps you to become so laser-focused on Jesus that sin isn’t even an issue anymore. That is what it means to be sanctified.
Sanctification is a lifelong process. Washing and justification happen immediately upon salvation, but sanctification is a process. As you begin to serve in the capacity for which God called you, you become more like Christ in character, and the more closely you resemble Christ in your character, the more effective you become in your service. As you become more effective in your service to Christ, then you desire to spend more time doing that because you are getting good at it and you are doing what you love to do. You are doing what God created you to do. God created you; he knit you together in your mother’s womb exactly, perfectly as you are. When you are doing the work God prepared for you, you are at your most productive, and joy ensues. Consider a Craftsman wrench. Craftsman made that wrench to turn bolts. If a person attempts to use that wrench as a boat, that will not work out too well. Joy will not ensue. It is the same for you. God created you uniquely as you are. You will be at your happiest in this life when you are fulfilling God’s purpose for your life.
Sanctification is the process by which God trains you to fulfill the purpose for which he made you. My time in prison has involved much (needed) sanctification. I was already washed and justified when I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was a child. I just had to remember that, which pretty much happened overnight. However, the process of sanctification does not happen overnight. It is a lifelong journey with the Holy Spirit as your Guide. The Holy Spirit sanctifies you, but you have to do your part as well. I have to borrow from Augustine again: “Pray as if everything depended on God. Work as if everything depended on you.” That is how we should view the sanctification process, and that is how we should view our service in the Kingdom of God. You have to get on the holy train, and then the Holy Conductor will train you.
Sanctification comes from experience with the Holy Spirit as your guide. You can also speed up the process by putting in some work. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:17). So, study the Word, and it is also helpful to study commentaries and devotionals from men and women who have spent lifetimes studying the Word. You should not try to walk this Christian walk alone. I have learned so much about God and how he interacts with this world through writers and preachers such as William Lane Craig, C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, Timothy Keller, and so many others. The Holy Spirit used the words of those men of God in my sanctification because they were His words. That is the secret of writing or speaking something powerful and life-changing—getting out of the Holy Spirit’s way and letting Him speak. That is also the secret of sanctification, quit trying to sanctify yourself, like I said earlier, and let the Holy Spirit do His thing. He is way better at it than you and I are. Start pursuing the calling God has placed on your life, and He will sanctify you throughout the process. Some people seem to think that they have to become perfect before they can serve in the Kingdom, but it is actually the other way around. God perfects you as you serve.
Just because you become gospel-minded and Kingdom-focused does not mean that temptation will disappear. Your integration of the gospel message will change how you respond to temptation. If we do not actually just fall for the temptation right away, often we will respond by thinking, “I should not do this because it is wrong, and God will not like it/me.” That is a step in the right direction, but that is not the gospel-centered response. I want you to respond to temptation like this. I want you to say, “I love God way too much to fool around with the devil like this.” That should be your response to temptation. Your ability to respond positively to temptation will increase the more you respond positively to temptation.
God will also sanctify you through tests—obedience tests, faith tests. When God presents you with a task, will you respond obediently? When you encounter a difficult situation, will you remain faithful? These are sanctifying events as well. Hopefully, prayerfully, you will succeed through the tests, but sometimes you will fail. Sometimes I fail. How you respond to failure is also part of the test. Every success and every failure, when you place them at the foot of the cross, walk you up that ladder of sanctification, as long as you place them at the cross. That perspective is very important because it keeps us from succumbing to two of the devil’s tricks. It keeps you from succumbing to pride when you have success, and it keeps you from succumbing to condemnation when you fail. Look at Paul, the writer of our passage tonight. He had some tremendous failures in life. He killed Christians. He also had some tremendous successes. He planted Christian churches all over the Roman Empire. But look what he said in 1 Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Paul’s self-identity came from God. He did not view himself through a lens associated with his success or his failures. Instead, he thought of himself how God thought of him. What truer perspective exists than God’s perspective?
So, what causes us to fall back into sin? I think doubt has a lot to do with it. When we doubt the Word of God, when we doubt the gospel message, when we doubt God’s love for us, backsliding becomes inevitable. But there is no reason to doubt the Word of God. God’s promises are Yes and Amen! The Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and you can trust it completely. You are God’s child and co-heirs with Christ. Focus on that. God died for you when you were at your worse. Let that knowledge drive your actions. Meditate on how great your God is and how much He loves you. Do not think about trying not to sin. Do not think about what you need to quit doing. That does not work very well because then you are focused on sin. Instead, think about how much you love Jesus. Abide in God’s greatness and His love for you. Then, think about what you can do to glorify Him. Ask the Holy Spirit to empower you for service. Ask God to open doors for you to tell other people about how magnificent He is. Seek the kingdom of Heaven, align your sight with God’s vision, and the Holy Spirit will keep you in step with Him. What needs exist around you that you can meet? Who can you help guide into God’s presence? What can you do to actualize God’s Kingdom right where you are? As you meditate on your service in the kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit will replace your old sinful patterns with gospel focus. That is the promise of God, and that is the secret to attaining to a victorious, Christ-centered life. Make your Kingdom work the primary focus of your life. You only get so many trips around the sun. Tomorrow is not promised. Quit wasting time. Make the most of the time you have on earth and accomplish things that will have significance. I want to leave you with this one thought: When you are in Heaven with God, when this world is burned away, what will you wish you had done more of? Now, go and do that more.